Invisible Illness: Migraine

Spiritual Smart Aleck


Here is a partial list of invisible illnesses: allergies, food intolerances, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, chronic myofascial pain, depression, mental illness, diabetes and other blood sugar issues, digestive disorders such as IBS, colitis, and celiac disease.

They are called invisible illnesses because people look at you and don’t see anything wrong, unless you are doubled over in pain, bald from chemo, or passed out in a diabetic coma, for example. Then they notice.

Or not. One day back when I was working for the county, I went out to lunch and saw a man passed out on the sidewalk at the corner of First Avenue South and Yesler. People ignored him and stepped around him, because, hey, Pioneer Square. I went into a shop and asked the owner to call 911. He did, an ambulance came, and the man was treated. Turned out he was a diabetic, not a drunk. Not that that mattered.

Don’t ignore people who are passed out, kids. Call for help.

Where was I?

Invisible illness is an illness that people might not believe is real. People might make fun of you. Bosses might accuse you of making it up so you can loaf.

Migraine is one of the invisible illnesses.

Migraine is thought of as headache, and it is, but it is also total body involvement. There is nausea, and throwing up. After you throw up, you feel better for a while. I guess that’s an up side. Yay?

Migraine takes you out of your life for the duration of the pain and sickness, and it isn’t like you have a migraine one day and are back in fighting form the next – it takes a while to recover. Those of you who get migraines understand. Those of you who don’t get migraines – I wish you would try to understand.

Migraines can be set off by triggers: chocolate, wine, dairy, or any other food, a long day in Seattle, a strobe, the sun, fluctuations in your endocrine system. Anything, really. It’s insidious how many things can set off a migraine.

Some people’s migraines begin with a visual aura, a precursor that lets them know they are screwed, and about to lose the next fourteen to twenty-four hours of their life, or a couple of days or more if they get a rebound headache or a migraine hangover.

Everyone’s aura is unique. My husband saw bright, flashing lights. My friend Libbie got blind spots. She would look at her hand, and fingers would be missing.

My friend Sonya gets a visual aura, and sometimes she gets what she calls a silent migraine. She says, “A silent migraine is short, possibly a half hour. No pain, occasionally a bit of nausea. Arcs of zig-zag bands wheeling on what I presume is the axis of my pupil. They do not have the same radii, overlap and dance crazily. Long ago they were black and white, then red jags joined the parade. The most recent was bronze, grey and yellow, overlaying the actual view.”

I didn’t get an aura. For me a migraine started with extreme weariness, light sensitivity, tearing eyes, and a runny nose. Soon came the familiar throb, usually in my right temple.
During the thirty-plus years I had migraines, I tried prescription, over the counter, and folk remedies for pain relief. When Imitrex came out, I was told that because I averaged only four migraines a month, I did not qualify to receive it. I figured that was a rule made by someone who never had a migraine.

What worked best for me was Excedrin and coffee. It didn’t make the migraine go away, but it knocked it into the background enough that I could function a bit, or sleep.
Ice on the nape of my neck when I was lying down gave me some relief. Lying perfectly still in a dark room with a convenient bucket next to the bed was good.

Research has now linked migraine to a higher susceptibility to stroke, both ischemic and hemorrhagic, and migraine with aura is linked to epilepsy. Wow. I have had a TIA (transient ischemic attack), which I am told is not a stroke, but it was close enough for me.
So, you lucky ducks who enjoy rude good health, when someone tells you they have a migraine, or any of the conditions listed in the first paragraph, believe them.

It’s bad enough being ill and in pain without having someone doubting you and giving you a hard time about it because you “don’t look sick,” or implying you are a shirker because you haven’t done something to fix yourself, when you’ve tried everything, and nothing worked.

You are going to want to bank some good karma on health issues.
Trust me.